Since its 1967 release, Disney has reissued "The Jungle Book," inspired by Rudyard Kipling's stories, many times and even made a live-action, direct-to-video sequel in 1998. At last it has produced a big-screen, animated sequel, "The Jungle Book 2," a work of such charm and imagination it should enchant, as the old circus phrase goes, "children of all ages."
Director Steve Trenbirth and a vast animation team have honored the classic Disney style of simply and attractively rendered human and animal characters with superbly illustrated backgrounds, in this instance a lush, leafy jungle replete with ancient ruins and a humble rural village nearby.
It is in this village that the irrepressible Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) lives with his adoptive family. The sequel does not inform us that Mowgli had been raised in the jungle by wolves, but it soon becomes clear that he misses Baloo (John Goodman), a sweet-natured creature Mowgli calls Papa Bear, who in turn refers to Mowgli as "man-cub," as do the boy's other animal friends. The villagers, in particular Mowgli's adoptive father (John Rhys-Davies), regard the jungle as dangerous, and its children are forbidden to cross the river and enter it. A homesick Mowgli cannot resist, and a concerned neighbor girl, Shanti (Mae Whitman), soon follows in search of him.
Mowgli's subsequent adventures are told with much wit and humor, and knockout musical numbers give the film a terrific lift. From the original "Jungle Book" are Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman's "I Wanna Be Like You" and Terry Gilkyson's rousing "Bare Necessities." Lorraine Feather and Paul Grabowsky have created several new jazzy, razzmatazz swing numbers in a '40s vein that, along with Joel McNeely's score, lend a smart, engaging retro feel to the film -- a standout is "W-I-L-D" staged like an elaborate production number in a vintage Broadway or Hollywood musical in which Baloo means to convince Mowgli that his place is in the jungle.
Other creatures Mowgli encounters in the jungle are the wise, gentle black panther, Bagheera (Bob Joles); the slinky, menacing tiger Shere Khan (Tony Jay); the oozy, hypnotic snake Kaa (Jim Cummings); and Lucky (Phil Collins), leader of a pack of cackling, looming buzzards.
It is a testament to the artistry and skill of all involved that the inevitable moment in which Mowgli realizes he must make a choice between man and beast is remarkably poignant. Yet "The Jungle Book 2" cleverly moves beyond this tug-of-heart to end on a jaunty, upbeat note reconciling mankind and nature.
'The Jungle Book 2'
MPAA rating: G (general audiences).
Times guidelines: Suitable for all ages.
John Goodman ... Voice of Baloo
Haley Joel Osment ... Mowgli
Mae Whitman ... Shanti
Connor Funk ... Ranjan
Bob Joles ... Bagheera
Tony Jay ... Shere Khan
A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation. Director Steve Trenbirth. Producers Mary Thorne and Chris Chase. Screenplay Karl Geurs. Unit director Andrew Collins. Editors Peter N. Lonsdale. Christopher Gee. Music Joel McNeely. Songs Lorraine Feather and Paul Grabowsky. Art director Michael Peraza. Character designer Ritsuko Notani. Special effects supervisors Deal Larkin, Marvin Petilla. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes.
In general release.